Analysis: Does the rise of the part-time CMO indicate an outsourcing of the role?

There has been a growing demand for part-time CMOs, also known as fractional CMOs, in large enterprises where transitional or short-term functional leadership roles need to be filled. According to a recent report by the CMO Council sponsored by part-time CMO service provider Chief Outsiders, this need is due to CMO transitions, lack of specific skill sets, new competitive market conditions, diversification, market expansion, restructuring, acquisition, rapid growth, or a changing business model.

Marketing team reorganisation (62%), CMO termination or leadership failure (50%), and global expansion or new market entry (48%) were the top three reasons why business leaders are turning to part-time CMOs for help. These reasons stem from the fact that modernisation of marketing organisation, systems and operation is required to ensure the company is able to meet consumers' needs.

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Having a part-time CMO onboard is especially appealing for companies given the extended time required to find and onboard new marketing hires and establish credibilty and operational effectiveness in the organisation. On the other hand, part-time CMOs bring on-demand domain expertise and experience in whatever role is most needed to deliver both revenue and results.

According to the 120 senior corporate executives surveyed, 52% said having interim marketing leaders will help inject new thinking, ideas and innovations while 48% said it will offer objective perspetives and assessments.

Meanwhile, 41% said part-time CMOs help introduce proven methodologies and practices and strengthen leadership and depth in senior roles.

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Sentiment towards part-time CMOs are generally positive among C-Suite leaders from large and small enterprises. The report said leaders from large enterprises believe part-time CMOs add new thinking and leadership to the company. Meanwhile, those from small enterprises believe part-time CMOs offer proven methodologies and practices.

Southeast Asia's demand for part-time CMOs

Although the majority of the respondents are from North America (84%) with some respondents from Asia Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East, the demand for part-time CMOs is also apparent in Southeast Asia. Four weeks ago, Lynette Ang (pictured below), founder of The Scent Apothecary and former CMO of Sentosa Development Corporation, joined a B2B fintech company as a part-time CMO.

Speaking to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE in her personal capacity, Ang said she was brought on to create awareness for the brand with the objective of making it the most desirable digital gift card or voucher for consumers. While its merchant base is growing quickly, Ang said not many consumers know about it. Hence, the need for branding and marketing. 

Before this, Ang was in the corporate world for more than two decades, helming leadership roles in the marketing teams of Sentosa, NTUC, NTUC Income, Neptune Orient Lines, and OCBC Bank, among others.

"Since I stepped away from my full-time corporate role, I have had conversations with several parties who had indicated an interest in employing part-time CMOs. The reason being that many are SMEs or start-ups and they are at a stage where they do see the importance of brand building and marketing in order to scale," she explained.

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Since they are at the start of this journey, Ang said these SMEs and start-ups are looking for senior-level strategic talent to help build the foundations and guide them on the journey. However, given that many are SMEs or start-ups, they are unable to afford senior talent at full-time salary ranges. The alternative is to employ a consultant but according to Ang, that is often less preferred as they would like some longer-term commitment and some “skin in the game”. This specifically means the sharing of rewards and success in the form of incentives and bonuses, she explained.

Likewise, she agreed that part-time CMOs bring a wealth of experience, especially a mix of hard knowledge and good gut feel honed through many years of experience. They also bring long know-hows and advisory leadership to the organisations. 

As CMOs are senior leaders of the organisation, oftentimes they are not just focused on their function, but also drive general business strategy and play a leadership role to guide the teams, drive culture.

At the same time, the part-time CMOs are also not too close to the business. Hence, Ang said they are able to spot blindspots for the management and company. While there is no hard and fast rule as to how long a part-time CMO usually stays with a company, Ang said the duration is typically at least a year.

Meanwhile, founder and CEO of consulting firm Marqetr, Mawarni Adam (pictured below), told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that part-time CMOs are usually appointed for a minimum of six months and stay up to 12 to 18 months. According to her, the concept of a part-time CMO or even CMO-in-residence has been around in the West for some time and only in recent years have Asian countries begun warming up to it. 

"From some of the articles that I have read, the trend started with the start-up or venture capital circle where they would have an entrepreneur-in-residence to suss out potential investee companies, or guide current investee companies in their entrepreneurial ventures so the investment made by the venture capital firms are optimised," she said.

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Mawarni explained that these companies then saw a gap in the marketing expertise and brought in another senior member - the part-time CMO. She added that some SMEs and corporations have adopted this structure based on the same rationale too - an interim strategic senior resource for a specific purpose. Mawarni's consultancy, Marqetr, currently offers a CMO-in-residence service that lasts for six to 12 months or even longer depending on the job scope. 

Aside from the experience and skills, Mawarni said companies save on HR and onboarding costs naturally, while having the flexibility to scale the scope of work up and down easily. This is also a win for part-time CMOs themselves as they get to expand their skills and become more versatile in their service offerings. Additionally, marketing is not always on for some brands, unless they are in the CPG, FMCG, telco and banking sector, for example. At most, Mawarni said the active periods for the marketing cycle are typically four to six months or nine months at the stretch.

Companies that are not hyperactive in their marketing initiatives may benefit more from the executive outsourcing and even outsourced team versus having to take on the full cost of having internal resources.

Like Ang, Mawarni also has experience working as a part-time CMO or strategic advisor. While the part-time CMO is still a new concept, she said it is one that will change the marketing landscape once more education around it happens and more success stories come out from it. 

Before founding her own consultancy, Mawarni lead brand, marketing communications and CX at Berjaya Sompo Insurance. She was also in marketing leadership roles at BIG Loyalty, Tune Protect Group, and Citi. "I think the willingness to learn and keeping their minds open to new ideas are key to collaborating with part-time CMOs and it has definitely contributed to great working relationships," she added.

Challenges part-time CMOs face

There are always two sides to a coin and in this case, the benefits of being or hiring a part-time CMO comes with challenges too. The Scent Apothecary's Ang said at times, part-time CMOs might miss out on some critical events as they are not on the job full-time. However, she is of the view that individuals in this role should be flexibile to ensure that when they need to be there, they can adjust their schedules.

Another challenge is the potential lack of resources in the company since the part-time CMO is brought on board to build the foundations.

Many a time, there are hardly any marketing resources or budgets to begin with, and the part-time CMO must be able to ascertain that quite quickly in order to be effective.

Resources also tend to be very limited given that many are SMEs or start-ups, Ang added. As the job title suggests, part-time CMOs are not around all the time and as such, it is crucial for them to build synergy with other C-Suite leaders to get their buy-in for decisions. According to Ang, being full-time or part-time makes no difference because an individual should still do his or her job well. This can be done by ensure that on the days when the part-time CMOs are at work, they truly value-add and also exhibit teamwork, flexibility of their schedules when the situation calls for it and support the objectives of team members.

On a similar note, Mawarni said a challenge part-time CMOs have to overcome is the fact that they are viewed as "the outsider telling us what to do". With any role, internal or external, she said it is about building trust and ensuring the team has the same goals and purpose in mind, and that strategy and executions made under the part-time CMO will have the brand's best interest at heart.

To get C-Suite buy-in, it is important for part-time CMOs to back it up with data and insights. "This can be done through research from readily available data or they would have to engage an independent research agency. C-suite leaders are all about numbers, and if the part-time CMO can show the impact, then the buy-in will potentially be much easier," she added.

Photo courtesy: 123RF

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